The Formation of Religious Sects

Freedom of belief and religion does not mean the freedom to falsely accuse or persecute others. Those who use their beliefs to motivate or justify prejudice, discrimination, intimidation, assault, arson and murder against those of other religions are guilty of crimes against humanity.

Let me first begin to make clear the difference between a sect and a cult … a very important point in this specific discussion. A sect is a group within a set religion, usually a group of followers who meet and practice together outside the normal gatherings of the given religion. Their main intention is not to plot and plan harm to anyone or anything, but to further their understanding and experience within their chosen religious order.

A cult, however, is a different story altogether. It is a group meeting under the pretense of religious intent, but ultimately works to the enrichment of some and the destruction of some facet of everyday society. The best way to evaluate any group is always a system known as the “Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” – a system of standards created by the late I.E. Bonewits and which was adopted by the FBI and other government investigation bureaus throughout the world.

So how does a religious sect form? Here again I will make a clear differentiation between two different concepts … A religious sect within an established religion and a religious sect as in the formation of a completely new religious order.

Let’s start with the simpler one of the two … a sect within an established religion. This is primarily a study group which comes into being as members of a specific religion decide to come together on times other than the normal meeting times to study and practice together, exploring their religion more in depth among their peers – as stated above.

The second … a religious sect or the formation of a completely new religious order … is both simple and in depth at the same time. This usually transpires because an individual or group of individuals are dissatisfied with the teachings of their current religion and finds nothing which resonates with them in any other religion that they find … this will then lead them to begin a group – and ultimately a religion – of their own. But this does not necessarily have to be a completely new religion, it can also be a new denomination within a given religion.

A few easy examples here include : Buddhism – created from a variety of the teachings of other religions as well as inspired new content. Islam, created by Mohammad as he saw problems with the middle-eastern religions of his day. The protestant church breaking away from the catholic church during the Renaissance. The return of the druid faith – also during the Renaissance.

Other examples, the first – that was actually started as a joke – is the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America) which was started on a college campus in the 1960’s. Another example is the formation of Wicca, the modern version of witchcraft, but which also includes segments of other religious practices and beliefs.

Thus a religious sect can be created for a couple of reasons, but is always geared toward the betterment of people and society as a whole – unlike a cult, which is ultimately destructive in nature.